Last summer, we launched our Community Connection campaign – a global initiative where we swapped French for ‘Community’, supporting and celebrating our local and wider communities during these strange times.
A year on and community continues to be more important than ever. So this season, as a branch of our Community Connection campaign, we’re celebrating and putting the spotlight on creative talents, artists and inspiring individuals, from Europe and the US. We will be sharing their stories, talents, passions and give a behind the scenes look into their industry and life, forming our French Connection community of creators, #FCCreators.
Introducing our next #FCCreator, East London based, double MOBO award winning rapper and best-selling author, Isaac Borquaye, better known as Guvna B. We caught up with Guvna B to explore the importance of community to him, his creative processes and inspirations behind his music and writing, plus we delve into the story and themes of his new book 'Unspoken' and his most recent album, 'Everywhere + Nowhere'...
Guvna B, tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m a first generation Brit. My parents came over to England from Ghana in their early twenties and had me and my younger brother. We grew up on a council estate in Custom House, East London. I loved it. It was super diverse. We had Africans, Carribeans, South Americans, Europeans, in addition to working class English people. It was quite rough but for the most part there was a lot of love. I feel like our differences brought us together in a weird way.
How did you get into rapping?
A rapper called Kano lived about 15 minutes away from me and he was one of the best MC’s/Rappers in the area. One day I was watching tele and his song Ps & Qs came up on MTV Base. I remember thinking wow, a guy from the area is on tele rapping, that’s great. So it inspired me to write lyrics of my own and see where it could go. I still think the 2nd verse on Ps and Qs is one of the best rap verses in history.
Following a challenging 2020 for creatives, how have your overcome this & kept motivated?
My son was born in September 2019 so it’s been great seeing him grow in 2020. Under normal circumstances I’d be touring or filming or in the studio a lot and maybe I would’ve missed his first steps, or his first words, but even though lockdown’s been tough, being around to not miss any of his big moments has been wicked. Definitely a silver lining and something that reminds me that there’s still things in life we can draw positives from.
Now more than ever, community is key. How important is community to you?
Community is vital. I realised this when my Dad died nearly 4 years ago. I got really depressed and struggled to move froward with life. My family and friends really came through for me by letting me know they were there for me, and they could be trusted, and that they cared. Without them I don’t know if I would’ve been able to get out of that negative place I was in. I also really care about young people being the best they can be. My mum always says, it takes a village to raise a child. I really believe that corporate social responsibility results in a better environment for young people to thrive in.
You’re a double MOBO award winning rapper and now a best-selling author, how do you balance your multiple creative streams?
I try to think fluidly and go wherever the inspiration is. No point me spending hours in the studio making music if I’m not inspired to do so at the time. It’s like banging my head against a brick wall. I’m better off writing a book for example if that’s where the inspiration is. I imagine my brain has a few compartments. One day I might wake up and go into the music compartment, another day I might go somewhere else. Just got to follow the vibes.
Your most recent album ‘Everywhere + Nowhere’ is candid, honest and authentic. What was the story and theme behind this album?
I watched a documentary on a photographer called Vivian Maier. She was from New York. She took thousands of photographs but never got them developed and when she died the person that took over her studio came across them. When they got developed, they were the most incredible photographs and she ended up becoming really famous. I just think it’s crazy how it happened after she died and she didn’t get to see it. Just made me think that sometimes in life we can feel like we’re nowhere and things aren’t working out, but you got to keep going and doing what you love, because you never know, someday your work could be everywhere.
In this album you’ve intertwined elements of gospel, soul and pop, what other styles of music do you like to weave into your music?
So I’m a bit of a weird one. I grew up on Motown, Gospel and Grime music. It’s a madness when you mix it altogether, but I genuinely love it all. So I take bass inspiration from Motown and Jazz, I take the uplifting nature of Gospel and put it in my music, then Grime is just the culture I’m a part of so that’s always going to play a huge role.I genuinely like a bit of everything though. Hip-Hop, Jazz, Garage and even a few guilty pleasures. Big up Vanessa Carlton.
You’ve also just released your new book ‘Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man’ this year, can you tell us a little about its inspiration & your creative process behind it?
I decided to write it because I was conditioned from a young age that what makes a man is strength, dominance and never crying. I come from a loving family but my parents didn’t have time to equip us with the tools to communicate our emotions because they were busy trying to make rent. My masculinity was toxic because I had a set of ideals that in hindsight were detrimental to my mental health. When my Dad died I couldn’t pluck up the courage to “be a man”. Whatever that means. That’s when I started to question my masculinity and everything that had shaped it up until that point. Maybe it’s okay for men to be vulnerable. Maybe we want to but some of us don’t know how. I know a lot of guys struggle with the same questions so that’s why I wrote it.
With actual plans ahead, what are you most looking forward to once we get back to normality?
Definitely live shows and festivals. Whether I’m performing personally or just going to watch a friend, or an artist I like, I’ve missed the live circuit like crazy. Can’t wait to be back again, speakers booming, drink in hand and vibing.